New Delhi: By helping offenders, detaining victims and failing to register first information reports (FIRs) in some cases, law enforcement agencies played a role in furthering hate crimes last year, a new report published by the United States-based NGO, Council on Minority Rights in India (CMRI), says.
The ‘Religious Minorities in India’ report was launched by the CMRI at the Press Club of India in New Delhi on November 20 and covers a number of topics related to the condition of India’s religious minorities: instances of hate crimes against minorities; their portrayal in the media; the intersectional nature of oppression; and more.
The report was released by lawyer Kawalpreet Kaur and student activists Safoora Zargar, Nidha Parveen, Sharjeel Usmani and Tazeen Junaid. The latter three were involved in compiling the report. The launch was presided over by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves.
‘More incidents in BJP-ruled states’
In a chapter on hate crimes, the report details the ways in which the actions of law enforcement agencies, in some cases, furthered hate crimes. In this chapter, the report records that based on both primary and secondary data, 294 cases of hate crimes against Christians, Muslims and Sikhs were recorded in India in 2021. Of these, the majority of crimes (192) were recorded against Muslims, 95 against Christians and seven against Sikhs.
The Christian community was predominantly targeted on allegations of forceful conversion while the Muslim community was chiefly targeted for inter-faith relationships and allegations of cow slaughter, the report says. In most instances, the perpetrators were right-wing vigilantes or Hindu extremist groups, it says. “There is a clear pattern which suggests that incidents of hate crime against religious minorities have occurred largely in BJP-ruled states,” the report adds.
“Hate crimes against Sikhs are not documented at all and are not reported by news media as well. During our primary research for cases of hate crimes against members of the Sikh community, we found several cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings,” the authors say.
The role of law enforcement
The role of law enforcement agencies, in the absence of a “definite meaning and insufficient legal provisions to implicate offenders of hate crime”, is effectively driven by discretion, the report says. “There is a definite lack of action on part of the law enforcement against perpetrators of hate crimes that reveals a bigger pattern of discrimination in the criminal-judicial system,” it says.
The record also shows a “clear bias” of the police by detaining or arresting the victims of hate crimes, it says, adding that there are also incidents of police “helping the offenders in a crime or overlooking the offence that is committed”.
“There are also incidents wherein law enforcement personnel have in fact engaged in offences against members of the minority community. Institutional power and lack of accountability of law enforcement make the victims of hate crimes directly or indirectly affected by police action or inaction,” it says.
The authors say there are also incidents where the police have filed FIRs against the victim, making it “all the more difficult for them to be able to seek justice or any redressal”.
“It may also be argued that police discretion allows politically motivated behaviour like arbitrary detention of the victims or refusal to register complaints of the victim or terming the hate crime as a quarrel or clash between two parties, at the behest of political influence or pressure,” it says.
Representative image of a police officer. Photo: Harini Calamur/Flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0
Speaking at the launch, Gonsalves shared several examples of cases of political prisoners where the crime of the accused couldn’t even be established. “It shows the power of the Union government to frighten people,” he said.
“We are deep into the second emergency,” he continued. “For some reason, it hasn’t attracted the world’s attention and the media’s attention like it should have. Amid this, there is participation of the legal system.”
Addressing young activists, he said, “Our battle against this government and why they hate us is because of our speech. They are going for our minds and our tongues; they are going after our rebellion and our spirit.”
The report contains chapters authored by activist Afreen Fatima, journalist Aditya Menon, lawyer Vikasan Pillai, social worker Mohammad Uzair and research students Mehwish Asim, Mohammad Kamran, Tazeen Junaid, Nidha Parveen J.A., Nada Nasreen, and Sabah Maharaj.
Parveen, the vice-president of the student union at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai and author of the chapter on ‘Gendered Islamophobia’ in the report, said, “Muslimness is seen as a threat in our times, We have to carry the burden of secularism and nationalism. We are asked to carry this burden for collective consciousness.”
“There is an intersectional nature of oppression; the bodies of Muslim women have become sites of violence. This is something that was witnessed in Gujarat, the Northeast Delhi violence, and elsewhere. The accused enjoy impunity while Muslim women are objectified, raped and auctioned online.”
Activist Usmani raised the question of how young Muslims growing up right now might be affected by the current atmosphere.
“We saw four of our friends go to jail; four of our friends get harassed online; four of our friends auctioned online. We have documented our lives, our friends’ lives and the lives of our families. Young Muslim kids growing up right now are witnessing this consistently, relentlessly on phones, on televisions, and in the streets. [They] are hearing and seeing their friends and relatives being beaten up, being threatened. Every aspect of their lives is being demonised and vilified. How is that child looking at his future in India right now? How do they understand their own belongingness in this country?” he said.
The authors and editors of the report, collectively, said, “Principally, the report is written by young students who are impacted by the deepening divide in society – with a hope of a better and equal future in the country.”
Kaur, speaking at the event, discussed the legal aspects of persecution. “It is evident that minorities are facing the brunt of the state in varying degrees. When we see the example of the 2020 Northeast Delhi pogrom victims, we see the cases lying in the high court for the last two years. Indian courts need to keep their eyes and ears open; it is not a one-off case of Afreen Fatima’s house being bulldozed; it is not a one-off what happened in Khargone, or when the stalls of working-class Muslims were razed in Delhi, despite a stay from the courts,” she said.
“The judiciary should see that it is an attack by the Indian state against its minorities. It is also a campaign of misinformation and Islamophobia that we see everyday,” the lawyer added.
The release of CMRI’s report comes at a time when numerous countries and organisations are calling upon India to take stock of the plight of its religious minorities.
Six international rights groups – the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), International Dalit Solidarity Network, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch – in a joint statement reminded New Delhi that it is yet to implement recommendations of a recent UN report on India which cover topics which include the protection of minorities and human rights defenders, upholding civil liberties, and more.
“The Indian government should promptly adopt and act on the recommendations that United Nations member states made at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process on November 10,” the joint statement read.
Featured image: From left to right: Advocate Colin Gonsalves, Safoora Zargar, Sharjeel Usmani, Nidha Parveen and Tanzeen Junai. Photo: Sumedha Pal/The Wire.